ORONO — The University of Maine’s Memorial Gymnasium, known affectionately as The Pit, seats just over 1,300 fans. That’s not many, not by Division I college basketball standards, but when they all make noise at the same time, they bring the volume of a larger crowd.

Sunday afternoon, 1,336 fans were raucous, giving the Maine women’s basketball team an emotional lift. The Black Bears took care of their part on the court, earning a 67-54 win over UMass Lowell to advance to the America East championship game for the fifth consecutive season.

Maine (18-14) will travel to top-seeded Stony Brook (28-3) at 5 p.m. Friday. Stony Brook defeated Binghamton in Sunday’s other semifinal, 57-42. Maine and Stony Brook split their two regular-season meetings, each winning at home.

Anne Simon, a freshman, scored a game-high 21 points before fouling out with 1:19 left. She was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere in The Pit.

“It was amazing. I didn’t expect that,” Simon said.

Sophomore guard Kharis Idom, who led the River Hawks with 15 points, thought the crowd was a big factor.

“The atmosphere played a part. It was hard for us to communicate with each other,” Idom said. “With that, after they started to go on their run, it just became a little bit draining to us. Not being able to hear each other really made it harder. We’ve had an atmosphere like this, but it hasn’t been as crazy and as loud, and as against us.”

Maine trailed 17-13 after one quarter, as Lowell controlled the boards. During one possession, the River Hawks grabbed six offensive rebounds but were unable to convert the numerous chances into points. They finished with 57 rebounds – 26 offensive – to Maine’s 31. Twenty turnovers and a 28.1 percent shooting percentage mitigated Lowell’s huge rebound advantage.

With just eight players dressed because of injuries, Maine had to play a zone defense, Coach Amy Vachon said.

“We knew that was going to be an issue playing zone against them coming in, but we also knew playing man would be very difficult. If we can win giving up that many rebounds, I guess I’ll take it,” Vachon said.

Maine closed the first half with a 10-0 run, flipping a two-point deficit to a 35-27 halftime lead. The Black Bears scored the first four points of the second half, but the River Hawks answered with a 12-2 run to cut Maine’s lead to 41-39 on an Idom layup with 4:16 left in the third.

Simon hit a 3-pointer to push Maine’s lead back to five, however, and the Black Bears pulled away in the fourth quarter.

“As far as our defense overall, it was mainly pack in the paint,” said Maeve Carroll, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. “They push it really hard inside. We weren’t going to give them 3s, but we’d rather have them take shots from the outside.

“The crowd really helped our energy and kept us going.”

Maine had to play the entire second quarter without point guard Dor Saar, who picked up her third foul with 2:32 left in the first quarter. When Saar was in the game, the Black Bears moved the ball well in transition.

Saar’s biggest highlight came midway through the fourth quarter when she fired a perfect no-look pass from behind the 3-point arc to Carroll for an easy layup and a 61-48 lead.

While Maine was playing without Saar, Lowell played long stretches without Idom, who was called for her third foul with 1:26 left in the first quarter.

“We had to play someone else more extensive minutes that Kharis needed to chew up,” Lowell Coach Tom Garrick said. “(Maine) just stayed more steadfast than we did at the most important times. They believed more than we did, I thought, when it counted most. We spent a lot of energy coming back, and that’s where the legs get a little tired.”

Maddy McVicar and Kelly Fogarty each scored 11 points for Maine.

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